‘The Green Inferno’ Review: A Proper Throwback to Cannibal Horror Films of the 70s
It's been six years since director Eli Roth released 'Hostel Part 2,' after which he starred in a Quentin Tarantino movie and a horror movie directed by his pal Nicholas Lopez that he also produced and co-wrote. Saying that 'The Green Inferno' is highly anticipated is no stretch, especially for fans of the genre. Those who go in expecting a proper throwback to the Italian cannibal horror films of the '70s won't be disappointed, and those who go in expecting yet another Eli Roth story of annoying college kids getting ripped apart in exotic locations won't be disappointed, either.
'The Green Inferno' follows a group of college activists who travel to a Peruvian jungle to stop a corporation from bulldozing the land and evicting the native tribes from their homes. Led by a Che Guevara wannabe named Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the group -- along with their newest recruit and our protagonist, Justine (Lorenza Izzo) -- protests the destruction by chaining themselves to the trees and using their cell phones to stream the encroaching destroyers over the internet. It's a successful mission until the students' plane crashes on the way out of the jungle, stranding them with a group of cannibalistic natives.
The film takes just a little too long to set up the action, spending too much time with our obnoxious cast of characters, like Justine's Kristen Stewart-esque roommate, and the armchair activists in Alejandro's group -- the women all sort of look and act alike, and the only two guys of note are a chubby gent named Jonah and the pothead Nick (Daryl Sabara of 'Spy Kids' fame). Roth, who presented the film at Fantastic Fest, proclaims 'The Green Inferno' a message movie, but the message is anything but subtle; a group of privileged Americans who want to save the rainforest are more comfortable doing so from their own homes, and when they do venture out of their comfort zone, the very people and places they want to save literally tear them apart. It's a blunt indictment of armchair activism, showing us the thick, obnoxious line between naivete and ignorance, and how so very few selfless acts are actually driven by selflessness.
That nihilism radiates throughout the film, which serves as a straight-up homage to cannibal flicks of the '70s, most notably Ruggero Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust,' which had the working title of 'Green Inferno.' Roth plays with the worn-out horror trope of using unlikable characters to create bloodlust in the audience, but unlike generic horror fare, Roth's script is actually pretty clever and often funny; though, as with all of his films, the crude humor could stand to be dialed down a bit.
The film doesn't really come alive until Alejandro's group has been taken hostage by the cannibal natives, at which point we're treated to a series of exceedingly gruesome death sequences, made all the more gut-churning by the stellar practical effects work of legendary effects artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. Newcomer Lorenza Izzo makes for a fine protagonist, and her expressive eyes drive the fear home, especially when the threat of female genital mutilation is introduced.
Roth shows an amazing amount of restraint for a film that feels so bleak and nihilistic -- the sequences involving the female captives, for instance, are handled expertly. Roth smartly chooses not to overexpose their bodies, and when given the opportunity to exploit for the sake of shock (as is tradition in the very films he's honoring here), he opts to ramp up the tension and focus on dreadful moments leading up to what we think is about to happen.
Like the retro cannibal films that inspired it, 'The Green Inferno' feels like an exploitation movie, but Roth is never exploitative. Using real indigenous tribe members to play the cannibals is a good call, for instance, and proves that Roth is more informed and educated than his doomed characters.
Where 'The Green Inferno' falters is in the cinematography, which looks cheaper than Roth's previous films. Once we get to the Peruvian jungle, the visual style markedly improves, but the digital photography here often looks and feels sub-par in comparison to the moody visual style of 'Hostel Part 2,' Roth's best film to date.
'The Green Inferno' is very much in keeping with the cannibal films Roth set out to honor in almost every way: the plot, the look of the cannibals, the unrelenting and stomach-churning sequences of gore, the lush locations, the nihilistic attitude (thankfully, Roth wisely relents on this in the third act), and even the denouement back in the United States, which is cribbed from Umberto Lenzi's 'Cannibal Ferox.' And like those cannibal films, 'The Green Inferno' is a movie that you'll likely never feel the need to revisit, though it must be seen to be experienced -- and that experience will linger with you.